Post-Production So Far: Cameron’s Take

First: to address the elephant in the room.  Hello, elephant.  I said in my last entry that we would be doing post-production blogs periodically and we really haven’t been.  Sorry ‘bout that.

A semester has come and gone since we wrapped on Apocalypse Theory.  Following our triumph, Brandon and I took a few much-needed weeks off.  We hoped to hold a wrap party, but I’m afraid our organizational capabilities sputtered and died right when shooting ended, so we never quite pulled it together.  We’ll have to throw a kickass premiere party around late February instead.

We lucked out about as hard as we could imagine (not for the first time) when Maria got permission from her workplace, Matrix, for us to edit in one of their offices.  We’ll be grateful for this forever.  Editing can get stressful—never quite approaching the I-think-we’re-already-dead despair crashes that filming occasionally brought on, but still stressful—so it’s been nice to have an office with some privacy, temperature control, and enough space to do jumping jacks when the work gets tedious and the body gets sleepy.

Editing has primarily been a team effort between me, Brandon and Maria, with some audio help from Annette and effects work from Scott.  Though post-production is uncharted territory for us all, and even more mysterious in some ways than filming, Brandon’s been doing a bang up job keeping the process organized, setting deadlines and essentially determining what remains to be done, and in what order.

Once our footage was all uploaded and organizized, I began work on the Assembly Cut, which for our purposes was comparable to the rough draft of a paper that takes an hour and forty minutes to read.  I was extremely grateful for Margo’s on-set script supervision work.  I already knew in my head the general order of shots I wanted—those were mostly figured out from storyboarding—but if I had to comb through every take of every shot individually, it would have taken me to the end of time.  Fortunately Margo had written down how usable the audio was for each take, along with whether I had called a take “good,” “great,” “just dynamite,” “beautiful,” or “like music” after shooting it.  Having these notes on hand allowed me to narrow my options down somewhat, clearing an easier path for me.

When choosing between takes, using the actors’ performances as my deciding factor, I felt a new, huge sense of responsibility.  These skilled performers had given their all to this project, forcing the crew to stifle their off-set laughter during the funniest times, pouring their souls into the more dramatic moments, and often foregoing sleep to best portray these characters.  I owed it to them to show audiences their very best work, and to put their performances together in a way that properly, consistently portrayed each character’s personality and journey.

Another vital component of the editing was the pacing.  On a scene-by-scene basis, this started out as a matter of awkward trial-and-error.  Much like an optometrist switching between lenses and asking “better or worse?,” I found myself adjusting the length of clips over and over again to ask myself “funnier or less funny?”  “More natural or less so?”  It started out very slowly, but eventually I was able to feel the film’s rhythm without overthinking it.  Editing with Final Cut Pro gradually became as natural and expressive a form to me as sketching or piano.

It was a glorious evening when we had the Assembly Cut completed and put on a DVD.  Brandon, Maria, Matt, Annette and I gathered at the editing bay with some popcorn and raisinets to view the film front-to-back in its first vaguely movielike form.  And to my delight, I can say, without a shadow of a shadow of a doubt:

This movie works.

Even in its earliest watchable form, we saw how our unconventionally-structured script was becoming a uniquely but smoothly-paced film, how jokes that we had written three years ago had become funny again even to its weary creators, and how these many characters each came alive throughout the film.  My confidence in Apocalypse Theory was reinvigorated, my worst fears subdued.

It’s interesting how the process of writing the film has really continued even through editing.  As we examined and re-examined the movie’s pace, we decided to cut one scene and shorten a couple others, improving the film’s flow quite a bit (though cutting footage can be emotionally exhausting).  And throughout, we’ve occasionally decided to remove a line here, incorporate some improv there (there are one or two scenes that consist almost entirely of brilliantly improvised dialogue), or in a few cases, even create new jokes by juxtaposing lines or reactions that didn’t go together before.

Since I’d taken the lead on constructing the Assembly Cut, I took a backseat as Brandon polished it further, swapping in our proper microphone audio in place of the inferior camera audio and generally polishing the film as he went.  After a few weeks of focusing on my schooling, I returned to the editing bay to help with the sound placement, as well as edit the movie further now that I’d spent some time away from it and had a fresh perspective.

Post-production audio work is one of many skills that Brandon and I have had to learn as we go, mostly through scouring tech message boards for individual answers.  Fortunately I think we’ve been picking it up decently well—particularly Brandon, who’s been diligently putting in the most hours on sound.  It’s easy to see a film’s audio as secondary to its aesthetics, and to neglect it as a result, but we’re doing our best to make sure the sound is as clear, vibrant and full of life as the visuals.

I’m now approaching the end of my latest task: adjusting the volume of each audio clip and choosing between its microphones (we used two at a time on set because we’re cautious cats; narrowing it down to one in post greatly improves the dialogue’s clarity).  With the advent of 2012, I’ll begin work on the film’s closing credits as Brandon continues on the audio.  Then we’ll be doing the score, effects and as much perfecting as we can manage until the premiere in late February.

Besides editing, we’ve had a few other odd jobs to do along the way.  We conceptualized our title shot some time ago, and in early November, we were ready to shoot it.  Brandon forged a large, wooden contraption to lift our camera up over the bar on which we’d written our title and placed four color-coded flaming shots (I can’t really do the shot justice in blog form, but trust me: it’ll be SO SICK).  Maria composed the shot as Brandon and I, with the help of a few hausmates, balanced the contraption atop several textbooks, duct taped it into place and held it still with our bodies.  Miraculously, the contraption lasted just as long as it needed to, falling apart literally seconds after we’d completed a great shot.  We’ve placed it in our rough cut now; I think it’s one of our most beautiful, technically impressive shots, and it’ll be a fantastic way to kick off the movie.

Later that month, we had a wonderful chance to reunite with several of our actors for voiceover recording.  The DMAT at the Comm Arts Building had a recording booth available for our use, so we simply arranged times for our actors, got in there and recorded their parts, including a vocalized Facebook chat, a blazed inner monologue, and little things like characters calling from unseen rooms.  It was great to work with the actors again, this time in a far less stressful setting where we could focus solely on the performances.

We also had a day set aside to record voiceovers for smaller, uncasted parts.  For this, we created a Facebook event and invited many of our friends and neighbors.  We gave them characters as they arrived, and they all did a stellar job bringing humor and authenticity to these small but vital roles.  Once we had all our voiceover lines recorded, I brought them to the editing bay, chose the best takes and worked them into the film.

It hasn’t all been smooth cruising since filming wrapped.  Whenever something takes longer than expected or a new hiccup arises, it’s easy to blow it out of proportion and become suddenly convinced that the project is crashing and burning, and Brandon and I have had the occasional spat due to disagreements concerning the division of tasks or simply being on different wavelengths.  But we’ve always been able to pull out of these rough spots fairly quickly, and move forward stronger than we were before.  Whenever I see the film front-to-back in its latest form, I find myself re-energized and re-inspired to see production through to its end.

Since there’s been a whole semester of post-production, I’m sure I’ve skipped over things that Brandon could better illuminate, such as our meeting with Matt about score, our marketing plans or the adventure that’s been our acquisition of songs for the film.  He should probably write a blog.  But at this point I’ve blogged enough; if you’ve stuck with me this far, I thank you, and ask once again that you keep an eye out for our premiere.  We’re planning to hold it on campus in late February, and we hope to see y’all and everyone y’all know there.

Thanks for reading.  Enjoy the remaining hours of 2011, and have a fantastic new year.

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That’s a Wrap!

That’s a wrap for Apocalypse Theory.

…Or, that’s what I said on July 3rd, when we finished filming.  Once we were done shooting, the parts of my brain capable of working or focusing on anything lost function abruptly, and it’s taken about eight days to recover and finally write the promised blog post.

It took us 32 days, with very few days off and many sleepless, work-filled nights, to shoot Apocalypse Theory.  The movie will likely end up being between 90 and 120 minutes long.  It’s been almost three years in the making, and it’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact that the hardest part is over.

Our last scene couldn’t have been more poignant if we’d planned it that way.  Our final shot, which occurs fairly early in the film, depicts two primary characters looking at a beautiful mural beneath a bridge on MSU’s campus.  The end of their exchange is as follows:

“Shame it can’t be preserved.”

“I don’t think the artist minds.  Nothing lasts down here.”

“It’s still sad.”

This reflection on impermanence could have just as easily been about the experience of shooting Apocalypse Theory: something that was never meant to last forever, but is still strange and bittersweet to bid adieu.

I’ll miss the feeling of constant creative expression that came with directing actors and helping to set up shots.  When I chose to watch the camera monitor instead of the actors directly, it really felt like sitting in a movie theater, but with the power to change everything on the screen.  It was a surreal and glorious experience.  When things were going well, directing something of this size was enough to induce brief but enjoyable phases of power-madness and giddiness, and I finished most shoots with a greater sense of fulfillment than I had ever known before.

Perhaps most of all, I’ll miss working with the most talented, hardworking cast and crew I could’ve hoped for.  I’ve undertaken most of my creative endeavors alone, so until now I never really understood the joys of working with an enthusiastic and capable team committed to the same artistic vision.  Some have been with the project from its early stages, and some were brought on much later.   Everyone demonstrated either an incredible, long-lasting faith in the project, or an amazing ability to catch up and perform admirably with the rest of the team on short notice.  Thank you, cast and crew, for embarking on this quest with me and Brandon.  It’s been real.

There were aspects of the process that I won’t miss.  Directing a feature film is easily the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and the first time I’ve had to devote such constant attention to a project just to keep it moving.  On the most stressful days, it took every ounce of willpower to keep from collapsing into a pathetic pile of vomit and tears.  The stress took an immense toll on my psyche; every night I was plagued by nightmares of missed shots, mounting pressure, cameras watching me sleep and other film-related anxieties.  Those dreams are only now beginning to fade; I’m still waking up in the morning, moving my sheets around frantically for “continuity reasons.”  There were times when my relationship with Brandon was strained as well, either from being on different creative wavelengths or simply from the effects of previously unknown levels of stress.

Yet I can’t regret even the least pleasant aspects of shooting, because I often learned the most from them.  Brandon and I made an effort to learn from every challenge that came before us, and to come into each shoot as better filmmakers.  When things didn’t go according to plan—and the unexpected challenges, such as several necessary last-minute rewrites, nearly drove us into Panic Mode—we found strength we never knew we had, and always doubled down to heal the production’s wounds.   Through these challenges, I overcame a lot of self-doubt and learned to trust myself.  By delegating certain responsibilities to the rest of the crew, and seeing them excel so thoroughly, I learned to trust others as well.  And even the tensest moments with Brandon revealed the flaws in our relationship, and helped us to understand ourselves and each other better.  As a result, we’re better brothers and a better filmmaking team.  We’ve learned so much from production—about art, life, ourselves, everything—that it feels like five years have passed in a month.

I mean that in a good, spiritual-growth sort of way, not a creepy Twilight Zone sort of way.

I would say this whole experience has been an emotional roller coaster, but they don’t build roller coasters that tall.  A part of me feels that Apocalypse Theory is already finished.  True, there’s still plenty of post-production ahead (which Brandon will blog about in the near future), but it’s work that we know we can do, has comparatively miniscule chances of falling apart, and can be scheduled whenever we have time.  I see it as akin to the journey home after the completion of a long, perilous quest.

It’s difficult to sum up this experience as a single blog post.  I’m considering writing a book on the production, which would offer a more complete making-of story, along with my own personal journey and tips for other beginning filmmakers.  At the moment, however, I’m enjoying what is, in some ways, my first true period of relaxation in almost three years.  I’ve been cleaning up Bleu Haus, catching up on video games, books and movies, and making up for lost time with my wonderful girlfriend Mari.  I’m remembering why I got so excited about summer vacation as a child.  And when vacation’s over, I’ll be rested and ready for the next adventure.

And now, I’d like to offer some thanks.  First off, thanks to our wonderful cast and crew for bringing their all to this production.  Brandon and I lucked out finding you all, and appreciate everything you’ve done for the production.

I also want to thank our parents, friends, girlfriends (love you Mari!) and loved ones for supporting us throughout production.

There are a lot of people inside and outside the cast and crew who enabled this production by either financing it or trusting us with their property (e.g. equipment, clothes, horses, businesses, and homes).  You’re too many to thank here, but you know who you are, and we’ll make sure you get credit when this thing hits screens.

I’d like to thank everyone who Liked our Page, read our blog, kept up with our story and helped get the word out about Apocalypse Theory.

And of course, I’d like to thank Brandon for being the best filmmaking partner and brother in the whole wide world.

 

And thank you for reading.  If y’all have any questions about production, write a comment and I’ll answer.  And keep an eye on the blog; we’ll still write new posts on occasion to offer updates on post-production.

Almost There

Twenty-one days of shooting down.  Nine to go.  Given the number of indie projects that fail before they finish production, it’s comforting to think of how much is behind us.  In fact, it’s more than comforting.  It makes me quite proud.  We’ve shot with horses, with fire, in the dorms, in a restaurant, inside, outside, daytime, nighttime, on a dolly, on a jib, with a lensbaby, sad scenes, happy scenes, sexy scenes, spit takes, stunts, after last-second rewrites and with way less sleep than is recommended.  The majority of our feature-length movie is in the proverbial can (it’s a hard drive), and I feel like there’s nothing coming up that we can’t handle.

Tonight we shoot a party scene in Maria’s apartment, kicking off a fairly intense nine-day stretch of work designed to have us finished before Independence Day.  To be honest, I can’t wait until it’s over.  Production has been an amazing experience, and I am absolutely having fun and feeling very fulfilled.  The stress is something else, though.  I’ve led projects before, and I’ve worked on very little sleep.  It’s different, though, to coordinate something that none of us have done before.  There’s precedent for making a feature-length student film, of course.  It’s just that many of them don’t succeed.  How many other endeavors are like that, popular despite an enormous amount of work and high risk of failure?  I guess that corresponds to the potential return of creating a feature film.  A part of me  is calmed and another excited when I imagine what it will be like to have finished Apocalypse Theory.  The image is so appealing, it’s tough not to trick myself into thinking it’s done already.  Nine days left, and there are certain challenges ahead.  We have long days and nights planned, and we have yet to shoot from the back of a golf cart or drop an actor in the Red Cedar, as we plan to do.  Success and the relative peace of post-production are right around the corner, but we still have to get there.

If you arrived here without visiting the Facebook page, please Like us on the Book and take a gander at our production stills.  Also be sure to join the group “Apocalypse Theory Extras.”  We are in serious need of extras for some upcoming shoots, and several will get the chance to deliver lines.  Hope to see you soon.

Brandon Laventure
Writer/Producer
Apocalypse Theory

Week 1 of Shooting: A Recap

Boom.   The first week of shooting is complete.  I’ll do my best to write about it, though I have limited time and no real outline of what to say.

It’s been years since I’ve felt such an incredibly wide spectrum of emotions in such a short span of time.  It’s reached the point where I’m dreaming about directing–in one such dream, I just wore a hat and ordered random friends around my living room until it “looked right.”  While directing, it’s easy to get swallowed up and overwhelmed by all that’s happening around you, and even when things are going well, it’s tempting to obsess over the things that aren’t according to plan.  Yet those moments of despair are countered by the thrills of creative expression and unprecedented control over such an enormous project.  Minute by minute, I honestly couldn’t tell you whether there’s more anxiety or excitement.  Maybe I’ll have a better idea when it’s over.

The first day of shooting was a triumph overall.  After about 3 hours of sleep, I woke up, got myself a coconut mocha or frappuccino or something from Starbucks (I highly recommend this beverage, whatever it’s actually called, to sleep-deprived filmmakers the world over; it’s been a lifesaver on a couple occasions), and helped prepare the house.  We shot five scenes, spread out over three rooms and about a hundred pages of our script.  We had fortunately determined all our shots in advance, but still had to set up lights and sound for each scene, which is a daunting task.  Fortunately our crew performed admirably, and thanks to everyone’s awesome efforts, we finished shooting a half our before our scheduled end-time (though, admittedly, we had scheduled an especially long day to start out).  We had to reshoot one of our scenes later in the week due to technical issues, but four out of five on our first day is nothing to shake a stick at (or a boom pole, if I felt like throwing lame film jokes into this blog, which apparently I do).

There’s been a powerful learning curve.  We were slowed down by a few organizational and technical issues on our first day, but after each shoot, we always make sure to sit down and discuss how things could be improved for the next shoot.  Already, we’ve become a much faster, more skilled, more cohesive team, with a better understanding of the challenges that can befall a set and how to deal with them.

So far we’ve done all our shooting here at Bleu Haus.  We’ve had to delay a few scenes here and there, but at this point we’re very happy with everything that we’ve shot.  Our greatest difficulty so far has been filming the St. Patrick’s Day Party, a 20-or-so-page monster of a megascene which introduces most of our cast and sets up the revelry to follow, as well as the mystery that drives it all forward.  We strategically placed extras to make the party look full (an illusion that will be complete once we place the crowd noises we captured on set) and practically buried our house in balloons/streamers/cups/beers/shot glasses/silly string to get it ready.  The whole experience was so exciting, nerve-wracking, fast-paced and unfamiliar that it eerily resembled my feelings at my first IRL college party.  Weird.

We were able to shoot another scene concurrently with our party pickups (one of many advantages to having two people on set who can direct) that I’m quite excited about.  In spite of what appeared to be a miniature snowstorm (which made no sense but happened anyway), we lit the contents of a barrel on fire and had our fictional party guests gather around it to drink, socialize, dance and generally have a sick time.  It’ll be quite a spectacle on the big screen.

It’s fortunate that my first feature film is a comedy.  In spite of all the excitement, there have been times when it’s been easy to succumb to exhaustion.  When a hug from the plush T-Rex doesn’t quite do the job, I’m always cheered up by the brilliant, hilarious performances of our cast.  These actors are doing a phenomenal job bringing the script to life, and sometimes bringing their own lines into the mix while still maintaining the emotional core of each scene.

When the days are particularly long and hard, it rejuvenates me to view the dailies, because I’m reminded of the great results that come from our hard work.  It gets me excited to shoot even more.  I can’t fully express how excited I am to see the finished film and release it to the world, at which point it will belong to all y’all.  On to Week 2.  Get pumped.

P.S: feel free to comment with any questions about this production, or what I’m discovering about filmmaking in general.  I’d like this blog to be an educational look behind the scenes if possible, and could probably get into more detail on certain subjects if pressed.  Thanks; I hope you’re enjoying the blog.

‘Twas The Night Before Filming

It’s been two magical, at times overwhelming (but right now, I think, properly whelming) weeks since school ended and we became 100% invested in Apocalypse Theory pre-production.  We spent a lot of that time acquiring crew.  Our crew now consists of the following talented, hard-working, wonderful individuals:

Andrew Gambel

Annette Gianino

Ariel Vida

Derek Byrd

Emily Nott

Emily Parker

Joy Fu

Kim Berens

Kimber Bowman

Laura Aughton

Margo Sawaya

Maria Palmo

Mark Bearss

Matt Riggs

Mike Green

Mitchell Haba

Nathan Nie

Olivia Latz

Ryan Frederick

Scott Oberlander

Shaemus Kermiet

Yiting Lu

We’ve also added some new faces to our cast.  Some of these were for roles we had yet to fill, and some were to replace actors who unfortunately had to drop out.  Casting in such a short period of time has been a challenge, but it’s all been worth it to end up with such an incredibly gifted cast, who will no doubt bring these characters to life in ways that I can’t yet fathom.  Finishing the final rehearsal last night was a bittersweet moment for me, but I look forward to working with them on set.

Our new cast includes:

Alex Poling as Al

Zack Sztanyo as Ethan

Katrina Miller as Cassie

Adam Ehrlich as Dusty

Logan Pedersen as the Wanderer

Carolyne Rex as Nova

Martin Mugerian as Tyler Prince

Eric Allen as Murph

Brett Kline as Scoot

Ayo Obayan as Fargo

Joanna Darby as Angel

Alex Lockwood as Palmer

Annette Gianino as Heather

Dennis Corsi as Brian

Sara Faghihi as Samantha

Scott Long as Dr. Solovyev

Ariel Vida as the Protest Leader

Caitlin Pistor as the Dame

Patrick Ropp as Famine

Brooke Crandall as Pestilence

Benjamin Poulson as War

Maria Elkin as Death

When we haven’t been bringing collaborators together, we’ve been photoboarding scenes with our excellent cinematographer, Maria Palmo, who’s been with us on this project longer than anyone.  This process of documenting each scene thoroughly with photos will surely shorten our time on set, and has helped us to visualize how these scenes will go down.  We’ve also spent time deciding how to decorate the sets with our imaginative and unthinkably hard-working art director, Ariel Vida.  It’s been fun to see these locations as they reached a very lived-in look that speaks volumes of detail about the characters who inhabit them.

Beyond all that, there isn’t much to say.  I’m here, drinking a summer shandy to calm my nerves, expecting about four and a half hours of sleep before rising bright and early for the first day of shooting.  I feel as though I’ve reached the front of a long line for a roller coaster, and am now click-clacking my way to the top of the highest peak (except, in this metaphor, the fall lasts a month and the coaster requires effort on my part to keep going, but my current emotions remain similar).

Though Brandon and I will soon be busy enough to make bees look like lazy punkasses by comparison, we’ll try to come up with a blog post at least weekly.  Look for us in the State News next week!

Believe in your dreams.

Cameron

The Cast

Our script has about twenty speaking characters, which is more than one would typically recommend for a first movie.  I guess we like to live dangerously.  Besides, as we saw it, we couldn’t really portray a vibrant college community without a full cast of students to inhabit it.  Casting has been a huge, sometimes overwhelming task, but we’ve been extremely privileged to get such talented people on board to fill these roles.

Most of our characters started out as composites of people we knew or had met (our two main characters certainly served as loose avatars for ourselves).  In each subsequent draft, we let them take on more and more life of their own until they bore little resemblance to existing people and became their own unique personalities.  As we allowed this to happen, we started to open our minds to the unique interpretations that actors would bring to these characters once we brought them on board.

We took many routes to finding actors.  A great Theatre professor, Rob Roznowski, pointed us to the new Micreativeconnect website, which we used to post a general casting call.  We also cast three of our actors based on our previous work with them in Frank the Assassin, and a few with whom I had shared a previous theatre course.  We contacted many actors based on their performances in student plays, and contacted some based on recommendations from others.  After getting in touch with actors, we would typically invite them to come to Bleu Haus (our home/party den and one of the main locations in Apocalypse Theory), where we’d have a brief meeting to explain the details of our production, then have them read for a few characters.  Usually in that same day, Brandon and I would talk with each other and come to a decision.

In January of 2011, we held our first cast read-through.  One of our leads was unable to make it, and the other wasn’t cast yet, so Brandon had the unenviable task of reading several scenes of dialogue aloud to himself.  Nevertheless, it was a great opportunity for everyone to meet each other, and for us to introduce the T-Rex: a large plush dinosaur for stress-relieving, hugging purposes on set and in rehearsal.

It was here that we gave the Cast Letters to all our actors.  The Cast Letters were our way of communicating necessary character information to the actors: background details, personalities, relationships with other characters (an especially key component to such a dialogue-based script), and an italicized secret at the bottom which they couldn’t share with other cast members.  I imagined these would serve as a helpful tool for getting into the characters’ heads, rather than diving straight into line readings.

Rehearsals are often overlooked in film, and are sometimes seen as a luxury that first-time filmmakers can’t afford.  I’m not very technically-minded, and I certainly aspire to be an actor’s director, so I saw rehearsals as an absolute necessity, and something I owed to our cast.  We scheduled many of these rehearsals on weekends throughout the spring semester, and I’ve been amazed to see how quickly these actors have taken the roles, understood them, and made them their own, contributing a sense of completeness and personality that I never could have imagined from the script alone.  I’ve tried my best to keep the rehearsals from becoming a matter of “no, say it this way,” and “on set, do it just like that.”  I took them as an opportunity to explore the characters’ deeper natures, so when the time came for the actors to take chances with their performances on set, every take would feel true to the character.

Casting has been a difficult and time-consuming task, but it’s been beyond worth it for the results.  Working directly with the actors and bringing these characters, once only a collection of written words, to life, has been one of my greatest joys in this entire process.  I can’t express enough how thrilled I am to be working toward one vision with so many immensely talented people.

The cast is as follows:

Zack Sztanyo
Alex Poling
Katrina Miller
Tony Maccio
Nicholas Dressel
Carolyne Rex
Martin Mugerian
Tyler VanCamp
Eric Allen
Ayo Obayan
Caitlyn Knisely
Kate Kilpatrick
Joanna Darby
Dennis Corsi
Sara Faghihi
Ariel Vida

Writing the Script

I came into college yearning to make a feature film.  At the time, my only film experience consisted of a few goofy class projects and a script that I’d written after high school, which was basically 120 pages of indulgent self-therapy.  Back then I couldn’t imagine that I’d be directing my first movie in under three years.

As my brother Brandon and I became closer in college, I started to see how well our storytelling strengths complemented each other.  We decided to write a script together.  As a Film Studies major, I would direct the film, and as a business major, he would produce it.

My first inspiration for Apocalypse Theory came when I was buying a math textbook for my first semester.  Something about setting up this exchange online with a complete stranger, then going to some unknown apartment in some unknown neighborhood to complete this exchange, struck me as an interesting narrative possibility.  What if that textbook, which you bought from a stranger whom you might never see again, contained something unexpected?  How would this

ROCK

YOUR

WORLD???

Brandon and I worked with this idea, deciding to connect the contents of the textbook to some kind of controversial on-campus experiment, like the ones at the Large Hadron Collider.  This way we could deal with heavy themes and ideas—the advancement of science, fears of apocalypse, the prevalence of conspiracy theories—while still working with a manageable scope and budget, and filming something almost entirely on campus.  This, in turn, got us thinking about the current apocalypse-fearing zeitgeist, society’s reaction to current events and the ancient (and thoroughly debunked) prophesies of apocalypse in the year 2012.  We became interested in the idea that we lived in a culture obsessed with its own destruction.

Launching from these ideas, I wrote a first draft of a screenplay over the summer of 2009, after my freshman year of college.  That script was dreadful, directionless, and fortunately bears almost no resemblance to what we have now.  They say all beginning writers need to write a lot of bad material before anything good comes out, and our experience certainly supports that idea.  If I hadn’t given myself permission to write badly first, I wouldn’t have written anything at all.

That fall, it was back to college and back to the drawing board.  Brandon and I worked more closely together on the writing from then on.  We decided to write about the world we knew (which now seems like the obvious way to start), and what we knew was an atmosphere of hedonistic partying with friends, drenched in a constant deluge of alcohol and saturated with the smoke of marijuana.  We began to see how our ideas were all connected, as if it had already been written and we were merely dusting off the pages.  College is a place where everyone constantly alternates between preparing for the future and living for the day.  How would the looming threat of potential apocalypse affect people in this environment, and how would it parallel their already-existing fears for the future and drive to enjoy the moment?

We wanted our script to stand out, so we avoided a three-act script in favor of five acts (which is how Shakespeare wrote, so I guess it isn’t “new” per se, but it’s certainly out of style).  We based four of our acts on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and determined the mood and events of each act from there, depicting the ups and downs of college life as well as the twists and turns of our story.

Have I mentioned that this is a comedy?  We wanted to take a different approach from most college comedies, which typically focus on gross-out humor and irresponsible drug use.  We certainly didn’t forego these tropes entirely—after all, they can be hilarious in good measure—but in our experience, humor in college most typically comes from the witty interactions of energetic, clever young people who have all been thrown into the same environment together.  We think our humor will thus turn out to be more authentic than is commonly seen in this sort of movie.

What we’re ending up with is a college comedy that hopefully stands out from its genre.  For a project like this—especially a comedy, where we’re constantly discovering and inventing new jokes all around us—the script is never really done until the film is shot.  We love what we’ve written, and think it’ll make a great film, but we’ve planned all along to experiment with improvisation on set as well, since we have a lot of talented actors on board with a great understanding of their characters and what we hope to accomplish.

I bore in mind throughout the writing process that a good script is the skeleton of a film.  Without it, you’ve just got a pile of skin, muscle and organs lying around, to bring this metaphor to grody completion.  We received validation for the Apocalypse Theory script when it made the quarterfinals of the Bluecat Screenwring Competition, and earned high praise from one of its judges.  This was a huge honor, and confirmed to us that this skeleton was worth building a body around.  When this body is complete, I hope you feel like shaking its hand and laughing at its jokes.

Gross.  Conclusions are hard.

Cameron Laventure
Writer/Director
Apocalypse Theory

Welcome

Thank you for reading the Apocalypse Theory production blog.  There are a few things we’d like this blog to be:

  1. A way for Apocalypse Theory fans to read up on production and see how we’re doing.
  2. A case study for anyone who wants to learn about film production, particularly on a micro-budget scale.
  3. A scrapbook, so we can get sentimental about the whole adventure later.

With that in mind, please comment to let us know what parts you like, and if there’s anything you’d like to hear more about.

Let’s meet the bloggers.  My name is Brandon Laventure, I’m twenty-three years old, I got my bachelor’s last May in supply chain management from Michigan State University, and I’m the co-writer and producer of Apocalypse Theory.  I live in East Lansing, Michigan with six roommates, including my brother.  My brother’s name is Cameron Laventure.  He’s twenty-one years old, a current MSU student of English with a concentration in film studies and specialization in fiction film production, and the co-writer and director of Apocalypse Theory.

These are the dudes.
The dudes writing this blog.  I’m on the left, Cam’s on the right.

Cam and I are in the picture business.  We write together, I produce, and he directs. As of April 21st, 2011, we have our very own production company called Airship Cinema LLC.  We chose an airship as our symbol because a) they are objectively cool and b) they represent a spirit of invention, mobility, and adventure.  Our dream is to make great movies that stimulate people’s minds and souls in new and exciting ways.

They rule the school.
Airships rule!

In January, Cam and I finished a 15-minute dark comedy called Frank the Assassin.  Helping us were director of photography Maria Palmo, composer and grip Matt Riggs, and a fantastic cast consisting of Zack Sztanyo, Dennis Corsi, Tony Maccio, and Ben Poulson.  I mention them not just because they all did a stellar job, but because Maria, Matt, Zack, Dennis, and Tony will all be returning to work on Apocalypse Theory.  If you feel like watching Frank the Assassin, you can do so here.

Frank was huge for us because we now know we’re capable of filming a complete work.  It confirmed our belief that with a good idea, the right people in your camp, and a lot of hard work, it’s possible to make something that people enjoy.  Frank also gave us the chance to go to the Capital City Film Fest, our first festival as filmmakers.  They let us show our work to a theater full of fellow film nerds, in the same program as some really amazing creations.  Then, to top it all off, they gave us the 1st place award for local student films, along with a $1,250 prize.  It was a wonderful experience that Cam and I will hold on to for a very long time.

But this blog is about Apocalypse Theory.  The stakes are higher now, because this is a feature-length motion picture.  It’s going to take over $7,000 and a summer’s worth of hard work from a lot of people to make this a reality.  And while $7,000 is a lot to us, it’s not a lot to most movie producers, so we’re facing the challenges of a micro-budget.  We have a lot of things working in our favor, though.  Our whole movie takes place on and around the MSU campus, where we have access to a community of very talented young actors and filmmakers.  There are two of us sharing the responsibility of leading this project, which is a lot easier than trying to do it alone.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s a story we believe in.  This summer is going to be hard, but I’ll be amazed if it isn’t a good time.

Brandon Laventure
Writer/Producer
Apocalypse Theory